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Saturday, 9 July 2011

Not Being Funny, But Is This a Good Way to Sell Newspapers?

News International is closing The News of the World, just like that.

The final issue will probably outsell all previous issues, thus compensating for the loss of advertising. The new "We never hack your phone" Sun on Sunday will start by outselling the old News of the World and may continue to do so.

Two up to News International. What's a few arrests between friends?

It is understandable that London-based journalists and other newspaper proprietors see an opportunity to weaken the hold of News International over UK media and UK politics - not forgetting the Metropolitan Police: much more interesting than the phone hacking are the activities of Andy Hayman and John Yates (* see Postscript).

Peter Oborne in today's Daily Telegraph has the best illustration of the political grip: he reports Tony Blair phoning Prime Minister Gordon Brown to urge him to shut up Tom Watson, the MP who was sounding off about phone hacking way back in the dark days of the Brown regime. Put that alongside The Times giving front page to Tony Blair on Libya (so that he could exonerate himself) at a time when every other paper was giving front page to Libya (see my Blog for 28 February 2011 ) and you begin to see how it all works.

It would surely be an illusion to suppose that the onslaught on News International is driven by a desire to raise the moral standards of journalism. It might incidentally do so, but the real drive is to sell your newspapers not theirs.

As for the politicians, they face a dilemma. If they think that News International's wings can be permanently clipped, then they have a motive to join in the onslaught. But if they are unsure of the eventual outcome, they have to be more cautious.

None of them is going to speak over the heads of the media and say to the electorate, "Trouble is, Rupert Murdoch decides what you will think of me. Worse, James Murdoch is lined up to take over that role".

I can't remember when I last read the News of the Screws, let alone bought one. It is one of those things that one just doesn't do, though surely I must have done it at least once - there was surely a spectacular scandal it uncovered and to my delight. But unfortunately I forget which one. There are so many.


Postscript, Sunday 10 July: There is an extraordinary long interview with John Yates in today's Sunday Telegraph. He fesses up to having made a complete hash of things and says he isn't going to resign. I think he understands how things work.

Monday 18 July: Got that one wrong. Faced with the prospect of being suspended by the Metropolitan Police Authority, John Yates has today resigned.

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